As Ferguson Points Up, Police Aren’t Soldiers

Ferguson_SWAT-490x295 In light of the chaotic situation at Ferguson, MO, we have to get serious in considering what a local police force is about. “Preserving peace and order,” used to be the instinctive answer. Yet, in virtually any human activity, trappings make a difference. And at Ferguson, the appearance of police officers suited up as though they were military attack squads raises misgivings.

The police have sometimes difficult, occasionally threatening, and always somewhat unpredictable jobs. They do great and important work, and they knew it would be challenging when they signed on as recruits. But they’re still local police, community employees, not military occupiers, and why would they want to create an impression of being something they’re not? Especially when, as in Ferguson, it’s apt to be a provocative one.

What we likely have here is another distortion/hangover from the horrific 9/11 attacks. But not every demonstration, especially one provoked by the possibly ill-considered action of a police officer himself, is a terrorist assault. Far from it.

Doing some web-browsing, we came upon a report by the Defense Tech blog at Military.com, “Ferguson Police Response Spotlights Defense Program.” It advises that, since its inception in the early 1990s, before the 9/11 attacks actually, a program of the Defense Logistics Agency has “transferred more than $5 billion worth of defense equipment and supplies to more than 8,000 local law enforcement agencies.”

So far, the Ferguson police themselves have received “only a trailer, a generator and two non-armored Humvees” from the federal program. But how about the newly-dawning notions of how a local police department is supposed to be equipped, look and, perforce, act during a time, possibly, of terrorist threat? Like may other police departments, the Ferguson force has equipped itself accordingly. Yet, let’s be fair. Are demonstrators against an anguishing police killing terrorists? Are we living in municipalities, or barracks areas?

Again, local police have sometimes risky jobs. But they’re not soldiers, unless we make them so, to our peril as civilian communities. When we join the Army, the first thing we do is put on a uniform, then learn how to use military equipment. When a recruit joins a local police department, that shouldn’t be the case. The setting is far from the same, barracks don’t line our byways. Let’s preserve the difference.